My recent cookbook reading has me focused on deviled eggs — those rich, creamy ovals of savory goodness that speak to us of Easter egg hunts and summer picnics.
A Dollop of Mayonnaise
In today’s kitchen, mayonnaise is the prescribed ingredient to moisten and bind mashed egg yolks for Deviled Eggs, but the more recipes I read, the more I wonder if this has always been the case, and if not, what did home cooks use instead. For a little background, I looked into the history of mayonnaise and I learned that Richard Hellmann, a German immigrant and entrepreneur, opened a delicatessen in New York City at the turn of the last century. It turns out that his salads were very popular due to his amazing dressing. Soon customers were asking to buy just the mayonnaise for use at home. This led Hellmann to leave the deli business and begin mass producing his dressing and selling it in glass jars with a blue bow on the label. Around 1915 the distribution of the still popular Hellmann’s/Best Foods mayonnaise began. When the product became widely available I can’t say, but I imagine most rural home cooks continued making their own mayonnaise for a number of years after that, or used something else instead.
When I came across a Deviled Egg recipe from the early to mid-twentieth century that called for mayonnaise, I also perused the mayo recipe. They were eye opening. Never having made homemade mayonnaise myself, I realized that the task was tedious indeed, especially before high-speed electric blenders, mixers and immersion blenders were in every kitchen.
My earliest twentieth-century cookbook, Fifty Two Sunday Dinners 1913 (above), includes an extra fancy deviled egg recipe that we will look at later, and a basic recipe for mayonnaise dressing. Its interesting that the recipe calls specifically for olive oil, a product that is ancient yet current at the same time, and that the mayo is to be beaten by hand, one-drop-of-oil-at-a-time, a process that could seemingly take forever.
Another mayonnaise recipe, this one from Martha Meade’s book Modern Meal Maker 1939, suggests that a cook begin the mayo making process by thoroughly combining a cooked egg yolk and a raw egg yolk, then adding salad oil a tablespoon at a time using a hand-cranked rotary beater.
The classic Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer 1985 (above) is the most comprehensive of my twentieth century cookbooks in instructing home cooks on the art of making mayonnaise. The book includes three different methods, each requiring varying amounts of elbow grease.
The first recipe calls for raw egg yolks, vinegar or lemon juice and salad oil added drop by drop with dry mustard, cayenne and confectioners sugar (yes, confectioners sugar) for flavor, stirring all the while by hand.
The second recipe is the same as the first except that the ingredients are combined using an electric mixer.
Finally, the third recipe recommends a whole raw egg and using an electric blender to emulsify the ingredients. Recognizing that the process of making mayonnaise is long and intense, Ms. Rombauer prompts her readers not to despair. She also advises home cooks to avoid making mayonnaise when a thunderstorm threatens as the ingredients will never emulsify. Who knew?
The most unusual mayonnaise dressing recipe that I found was in my grandmother’s The Household Searchlight Recipe Book 1944 (above) calling for sweetened condensed milk instead of egg yolks, combined with mustard, vinegar, oil and paprika. Seriously! Who doesn’t love sweetened condensed milk, however, I have never used it in a savory application.
Dairy and Mayonnaise
Not only were home cooks of yesteryear using mayonnaise in their stuffed eggs, but I discovered that many were using dairy products along with or instead of mayonnaise to moisten the egg yolks.
For example, in The Good Housekeeping Cookbook of 1963 the recipe for Deviled Eggs says to blend melted butter OR mayonnaise into the mashed yolks.
On the following page, a recipe for Stuffed Eggs De Luxe calls for mayonnaise OR cooked salad dressing. A quick check in the index led me to a fairly typical recipe for homemade mayonnaise and a recipe for Cooked or Boiled Salad Dressing which is made by preparing a rich white sauce with egg and milk, seasoned with salt, sugar, prepared mustard and vinegar and finished with a pat of butter. I think it actually sounds pretty tasty. Even though it has to be cooked 10–15 minutes and then cooled before using, it seems like it might be easier to make than mayonnaise.
Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book 1950 (above) has a Deviled Egg recipe with three options to dress the yolks — salad dressing (Is this referring to Miracle Whip?), vinegar OR cream. American Woman’s Cook Book 1966 suggests mixing buttermilk with the mashed yolks.
Referring back to the Joy of Cooking cookbook 1985, we find the widest variety of dressing options for Deviled Eggs:
The first option listed, french dressing, I have a hunch, is referring to a vinaigrette-type dressing, so called since the mid-1800s, as opposed to the sweet, catsup-based, pourable dressing developed by Kraft in the 1920s, but either one could be delicious.
The next dressing suggestions are sweet cream or cultured sour cream. Sweet cream is the thick, fatty molecules that rise to the top of milk that has not been homogenized, whereas, cultured sour cream is a commercially prepared dairy product made from cream to which a bacterial culture is added to create a thick, tangy product that is sold in stores to be dolloped on top of everything from tacos to baked potatoes and evidently, mixed into egg yolks.
Final options: soft butter with vinegar and sugar would be interesting to try. Then there is my mother and grandmother’s secret ingredient — sweet pickle juice — mixed with store-bought mayonnaise, of course.
Deviled Eggs with a Flair
Home cooks hosting a party may want Deviled Eggs to look a little fancy. In my research, I found several recipes suggesting ways to do just that:
Craig Claiborne’s book The New York Times Cook Book 1961 (above) recommends binding the yolks with a room temperature butter and mayonnaise combination. He then suggests two methods for filling the egg white divots in an attractive way using a piping bag:
Design number one is achieved by slicing the hard-cooked eggs lengthwise and using a star tip in a piping bag to fill the egg whites with dressed yolks using a back and forth motion creating a “Turk’s Head” appearance (his words not mine).
Claiborne’s other design is created by cutting the hard-cooked eggs in half width-wise, then filling the divots using a pastry bag with a round tip, piping the yolk in a spiral pattern coming to a peak at the center.
Similarly, Joy of Cooking 1985 suggests cutting the eggs width-wise at both ends creating a barrel-shaped Deviled Egg that will stand on its own.
Speaking of barrel-shaped eggs, this Deviled Egg recipe from Fifty Two Sunday Dinners 1913 (above) recommends cutting eggs in half crosswise in a manner that tops of whites will be notched (think a chevron or zig-zag pattern). Once the yolks have been dressed, shaped into a ball, dipped in chopped parsley and carefully placed back in the white, the finished egg will resemble a white tulip with a green center. Place a prepared egg in a nest of water cress with a vinaigrette dressing and you have Watercress and Egg Salad. Extra fancy indeed!
Add-Ins and Add-Ons
Its been said “the devil is in the details” and in the case of Deviled Eggs this seems to be true. Cookbook after twentieth century cookbook lists ingredients that can be added to dressed yolks or sprinkled, flaked or dolloped on top. For example:
Herbs, Spices and Seasonings: paprika — the most frequently called for, cayenne, curry, chives, tarragon, chervil, parsley, basil, oregano, burnet (Google it), horseradish, minced onion, chopped ginger, Worcestershire, hot pepper sauce or catsup.
Pickles and Such: dill pickles, sweet pickles, capers, black olives, stuffed green olives or truffles.
Meats and Cheeses: Bleu cheese, Roquefort cheese, Cheddar, cream cheese, minced ham or beef tongue, crumbled bacon, sauteed chicken livers or foie gras.
Fish and Seafood: anchovy paste, sardine paste, smoked salmon, flaked tuna, lobster or crab meat, shrimp or caviar.
Finally, the most surprising add-in of all was suggested in my grandmother’s The Household Searchlight Recipe Book 1944 in a Stuffed Egg recipe that calls for six hard-cooked eggs. The mashed yolks are mixed with a little mayonnaise, prepared mustard, vinegar, salt, paprika and ground raisins. Yes, one-third cup ground raisins blended into the yolk mixture and scooped back into the egg whites. Yikes! I wonder if my grandmother ever tried that recipe.
I hope you have enjoyed our cookbook journey. Its apparent that home cooks have been making Deviled Eggs for at least a hundred years and I’m positive we will continue on into the next century. I have included my own tried and true Deviled Egg recipe below. Enjoy!
- 1 dozen hard-cooked eggs, cooled and peeled
- 6 Tbsp mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp brine from stuffed green olives or rice vinegar
- 2 tsp Gulden’s brown mustard
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Dash of ground pepper
- Sprinkling of smoked paprika for garnish
- Slice hard-cooked eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove yolks into a medium–size bowl. Set egg whites aside.
- Mash yolks with a fork. Add mayonnaise, brine or vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper to the yolks and cream ingredients together with an electric mixer until smooth.
- Using a one inch scoop (#60), drop a spoonful of prepared yolk mixture into the divot of each egg white.
- Sprinkle eggs with a pinch of smoked paprika. Cover and refrigerate until service. Enjoy!
Recipe Compliments of cookbooklady.com